In most civic and charitable projects, the people with a “stake” in the results are legion. When people try to improve schools or health care or Social Security, who has a “stake” in the results? Answer: All of us – every last woman, man, and child. Half the time, STAKEHOLDERS is a passable substitute for “all the living, and even a few of the dead.” As such, in any practical context it is useless noise.
The only explanation for the spectacular success of STAKEHOLDERS in the philanthropic demimonde is that the word sounds tantalizingly like its cousin “stockholders.” For those with a painful, gnawing envy of Wall Street and all its blandishments, the desire for stockholders must have the merciless pull of an addiction. (Funny, that: Most actual denizens of Wall Street would be delighted to give their stockholders the heave-ho, as long as they could hold on to the capital.)
Among Wall Street wannabes, a word that gives the thrilling feeling of stock without the nuisance of actually paying dividends would naturally be a big hit. For those with a chemical dependence on the gibberish of high finance, STAKEHOLDERS is something like methadone: It eases some of the craving, without inflicting the harmful side-effects of the real thing.